European Scrutiny Committee Contents

49 Aviation safety


Report on the actions undertaken in the context of the impact of the volcanic ash cloud crisis on the air transport industry

Legal base
Deposited in Parliament5 July 2010
Basis of considerationEM of 19 July 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone
Discussion in Council24 June 2010
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


49.1 At an extraordinary session of the Transport Council on 4 May 2010 Ministers agreed on a joint EU response to the volcanic ash cloud crisis and invited the Commission to present a report on the EU response to the consequences of the ash cloud on air transport.[193]

The document

49.2 The Commission presented the report, this document, to the Transport Council on 24 June 2010[194] and it was subsequently deposited in Parliament by the Government.[195] In the report the Commission provides an overview of the technical work that has been taking place at national, EU and the global level to increase the understanding of safe flying in areas affected by ash and to examine how the rules and guidance might be improved. It says that in the field of air traffic management action has been taken to clarify procedures for flights in areas affected by ash, to improve coordination between Member States and to prepare for a crisis. This includes:

  • establishing three levels of predicted ash concentration;
  • interim guidance in the absence of binding limits;
  • creation of the European Aviation Crisis Co-ordination Cell to ensure better coordination; and
  • nomination of a Functional Airspace Blocks (FABs, which are airspace blocks that cross national borders and are designed to improve integration and operation of air navigation services) System Coordinator and accelerated implementation of FABs.

49.3 The Commission identifies a number of continuing activities, which include:

  • developing an EU methodology for risk assessment and risk management in cooperation with Eurocontrol[196] and Member States;
  • definition by relevant safety authorities of binding limit values at EU level for the impact of ash concentration on engines;
  • preparation, for the International Civil Aviation Organisation General Assembly in September 2010, of a coordinated draft EU position on methodological tools for risk assessment and management in case of volcanic eruptions;
  • accelerating implementation of the Single European Sky;[197]
  • appointment of a network manager to improve the coordinated use of European airspace;
  • adoption of the Single European Sky performance scheme;
  • accelerating implementation of the European Aviation Safety Agency's new competencies for air traffic management;
  • adoption of the SESAR (Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research) deployment strategy;[198]
  • evaluation of the Denied Boarding and Cancellation Regulation and of lessons learned during the crisis — the Commission plans a Communication on implementation and possible review of the Regulation in the autumn;
  • assessment of potential shortcomings in cooperation between Member States and different modes of transport in emergency situations — the Commission will prepare a report on short and medium term improvements towards a pan-EU mobility action plan, to be presented in the autumn; and
  • setting up an "Aviation Platform" gathering all aviation stakeholders at EU level.

49.4 In the report the Commission also says that it:

  • has established that the ash disruption should not affect the fixing of the overall cap on emissions under the EU Emissions Trading System, although it may affect the distribution between operators;
  • has met airport slot coordinators from across the EU and agreed that cancellations due to ash will not count against the "use it or lose it" rule, under which airlines must hand back slots that they fail to use for more than 80% of the time;
  • has not, in relation to potential financial assistance provided by Member States, received any state aid notifications;
  • has concluded that there is no appropriate EU source of funding to compensate the aviation industry for its losses due to the volcanic ash disruption;
  • has started to consult Member States on the problems encountered when other modes of transport had to take the strain during the disruption to aviation and will look at what contingency measures are needed to facilitate repatriation and re-routing of passengers and freight; and
  • will continue to monitor the situation and will keep the Council and the European Parliament informed.

The Government's view

49.5 The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers) says that the Government welcomes the coordinated EU action presented in the Commission's report, as it considers a joint approach to be the most effective way to manage a response to the volcanic ash cloud crisis. She continues that the Government:

  • supports the Commission's initiatives to improve safety risk analysis and management, to develop binding limit values and to improve coordination through the creation of the European Aviation Crisis Co-ordination Cell;
  • has continued, since the time of the first eruption, to undertake considerable work at national and international levels with the Met Office (in its role as Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre), the airlines, manufacturers, and regulators;
  • is ensuring that this work feeds into EU and international discussions;
  • looks forward to contributing to a coordinated EU position in preparation for the International Civil Aviation Organisation General Assembly in September 2010; and
  • supports a number of the ongoing initiatives identified by the Commission — designation of a network manager, establishing an Aviation Platform, consideration of a potential pan-EU mobility action plan and implementation of European Aviation Safety Agency's air traffic management responsibilities.

49.6 In more detailed comments the Minister says that:

  • aircraft and engine manufacturers must continue to establish what level of ash their products can safely tolerate and the Government and the Civil Aviation Authority continue to work with the industry to facilitate this work;
  • the tolerance level for continuous flying in areas affected by ash has been increased once already and work is continuing with the manufacturers of aircraft and engines to see what further steps can be taken;
  • the no-fly zone is under constant review, based on scientifically reliable data available to the Civil Aviation Authority, from industry, other regulatory and Government agencies;
  • NATS (the UK's air navigation service provider), in collaboration with the Civil Aviation Authority and UK operators, is developing the feasibility of a revised safety risk management approach with the potential to provide operators with the capability to assess whether and where it would be safe to fly in low ash concentration contaminated airspace;
  • until such time as any revised safety risk assessment methods are developed, the existing zonal procedures (no-fly — black, time-limited — grey and enhanced procedures — red) to protect flight safety remain;
  • the Met Office is trying to arrange a permanent airborne testing capability;
  • to this end, tenders are being evaluated for the provision of a new test aircraft to be at permanent readiness to assist in the work of the Met Office — the expectation is that this aircraft will be operational in the autumn;
  • the Government notes, on the issue of financial compensation, that to date no Member State has made a formal request for state aid clearance to the Commission nor have any draft proposals been presented to it;
  • the Government understands that governments across the EU may have some sympathy for the position of the industry, but face considerable pressures in public finances that make support difficult — the UK is no different in that respect;
  • the Government acknowledges the Commission's conclusion that there is no appropriate EU source of funding for compensation;
  • the Government is actively engaged in a number of the ongoing air traffic management initiatives identified in the report and it is generally supportive of the Commission's continued work on these programmes;
  • in relation to the Commission's suggested accelerated implementation of the Single European Sky, the Government will continue to work with other Member States and the Commission to make progress on this wide-ranging programme involving complex regulatory and technical issues;
  • in relation of the Denied Boarding and Cancellation Regulation, the Government, which supports the Regulation, has asked that, as part of any review, the Commission look specifically at payments of compensation in relation to flight delays in light of the ruling of the Court of Justice that passengers whose flights are delayed by three hours or more may be entitled to compensation from the airline, unless the delay is caused by extraordinary circumstances;[199]
  • the Commission says that the volcanic ash disruption will have no effect on the emissions cap under the EU Emissions Trading System, because the cap is set based on average emissions in 2004-06 rather than 2010;
  • although it accepts that the reduced activity could in principle affect the distribution of free allowances between aircraft operators the Commission considers that the relative distributional impacts are likely to be small;
  • if all aircraft operators covered by the system had been equally affected by the airspace closure this would be the case, however the Government is aware of evidence suggesting that those airlines flying to the airspace most affected by the disruption performed less tonne-kilometre activity in April 2010 than they would have normally;
  • they will, therefore, receive a smaller share of the free allowances than they would have otherwise, and operators operating primarily in areas least affected by disruption will consequently receive a larger share of free allowances than they would have otherwise;
  • the Government understands that this is fundamentally a matter for the Commission and that there is currently no provision in the legislation for modifying tonne-kilometre data or the benchmarking process;
  • the Government, however, supports efforts by the Commission to collect data in order to establish the extent and distribution of any distortion and encourages it to consider how the differentiated impact of the ash disruption on aircraft operators could be taken into account in the benchmarking process;
  • in relation to airport slots not used as a consequence of the restrictions not counting towards the 80% "use it or lose it" rule, the UK coordinator is interpreting this to include services cancelled in the immediate aftermath of the closures; and
  • the Government considers this approach appropriate — it should ensure that airlines do not lose slots as a consequence of the airspace restrictions.


49.7 Whilst clearing this document we draw it to the attention of the House as a useful summary of EU actions to mitigate the consequences of volcanic ash for the aviation sector and its customers.

193   See  Back

194   See  Back

195   Deposited in accordance with paragraph 1 (vi) of Standing Order 143. Back

196   The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation: see  Back

197   See  Back

198   SESAR is the research element of the Single European Sky package under which future air traffic management systems are being developed. Back

199   The ruling was in relation to the case of in the case of Christopher Sturgeon, Gabriel Sturgeon and Alana Sturgeon v Condor Flugdienst GmbH (C-402/07) and Stefan Böck and Cornelia Lepuschitz v Air France SA (C-432/07). Back

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